2016 MLB Division Series Preview: Can the Cubs Win It All?
There are just eight teams still playing in Major League Baseball, but only one of them has gone more than 100 years without winning a World Series. Here's a preview of the four best-of-five divisional series:
Texas Rangers (95-65) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (89-73)
How They Got Here: Resilient and dangerous, the Texas Rangers rode a mid-June hot streak into first place in the American League West and never allowed the rest of the division to catch-up. Outstanding offensive years from third baseman Adrian Beltre, second baseman Rougned Odor and outfielders Ian Desmond and Nomar Mazara allowed Texas to overcome the loss of designated hitter Prince Fielder (neck). Staff ace Cole Hamels was among the league’s best pitchers.
Despite being stocked with talented young arms and veteran sluggers like third baseman Josh Donaldson, shortstop Troy Tulowitski and right fielder Jose Bautista, the Toronto Blue Jays were unable to repeat as A.L. East champs in 2016. They did play well enough to reach the A.L. Wild Card Game, where they beat the Baltimore Orioles, 5-2, on Tuesday thanks to Edwin Encarnacion's walk-off three-run homer in the 11th inning.
Season Series: The Blue Jays won the regular season series, 4–3. The games included an infamous dust-up on May 15 that featured Odor punching Bautista right in his smug, bearded mug after a take-out slide at second base.
Postseason History: Texas is making its eighth postseason appearance and fifth in the last seven years. The Rangers have never won a World Series. Toronto is making its seventh postseason appearance. The Jays have two World Series titles: 1992 and 1993. This series is a rematch of last year’s heated five-game ALDS, won by the Blue Jays — and bat-flipping Batista - 3-games-to-2.
Why The Rangers May Win: Going deep: The Rangers’ deep batting order puts relentless pressure on pitchers with outfielders Carlos Gomez, Carlos Beltran and Desmond setting the table for Beltre, Odor and catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Toronto’s starting pitching might be able to neutralize the bats, but the Jays’ bullpen has been shaky in the late innings. Hamels and Yu Darvish both have electric stuff. Each can pitch deep into the late innings before turning the ball over to the ‘pen.
Why The Blue Jays May Win:Arms race: Toronto starters JA Happ and Aaron Sanchez don’t get a lot of press, but they helped the Jays finish first in the league in ERA (3.78) and batting average against (.242). Along with Wild Card-starter Marcus Stroman, the trio gives Toronto a good chance at shutting down the Texas bats. The Jays’ lineup has six players with 20 or more homers, but they’ll likely need to hit with runners-in-scoring-position to advance to the ALCS.
2016 ALDS Schedule:
Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 6 at Arlington, Tex.; 4:30 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 7 at Arlington, Tex.; 1 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 9 at Toronto; 7:30 p.m. (ET) on TBS
*Game 4: Monday, Oct. 10 at Toronto - TBD on TBS
*Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Arlington, Tex. - TBD on TBS
Cleveland Indians (94-67) vs. Boston Red Sox (93-69)
How They Got Here: After stumbling through April and early May, Cleveland hit its stride by Memorial Day. Fueled by clutch hitting and excellent starting pitching, the Indians used a franchise record 14-game winning streak in June to all but clinch the American League Central title.
Coming off back-to-back last place finishes, the Boston Red Sox hit their way back to the American League East title in 2016. Soon-to-be retired designated hitter David Ortiz, budding star outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. and veteran slugger Hanley Ramirez all put up eye-popping offensive numbers, while Cy Young-candidate Rick Porcello (22-4) had a career year on the mound.
Season Series: The Red Sox won the season series, 4-2.
Postseason History: Boston is making its 22nd postseason appearance, the last coming when the Sox won the 2013 World Series — their eighth world championship. Cleveland is making its 12th postseason appearance, and first since losing the AL Wild Card Game in 2013. The Indians last won the World Series in 1948. These franchises have faced each other four times in the postseason (2007, 1999, 1998 and 1995), with each team winning twice.
Why The Indians May Win: The hit parade: The Indians lineup doesn’t have a true superstar, but they send hitter after hitter like Jason Kipnis, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana to the plate and wear down staffs. The Red Sox pitching gets a little vulnerable in the middle innings if starters like Porcello and David Price don’t get deep into the game.
Why The Red Sox May Win: Big bats: Boston just wears out pitching. Betts, Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts see a lot of pitches and Ortiz and Ramirez clean-up at the plate. The Indians won’t have Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in their rotation due to injuries, so they’ll have to get by with Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and a dinged up Corey Kluber. This could mean a sweep.
2016 ALDS Schedule:
Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 6 at Cleveland; 8 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 7 at Cleveland; 4:30 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 9 at Boston; 4 p.m. (ET) on TBS
*Game 4: Monday, Oct. 10 at Boston - TBD on TBS
*Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Cleveland - TBD on TBS
National League Division Series
Washington Nationals (95-67) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71)
How They Got Here: Aside from a slight stumble in early May, the Washington Nationals easily won the National League East in 2016. They led the division for all but four days. Second baseman Daniel Murphy had an MVP-level year (25 HRs, 104 RBIs and .347 BA) in his first season with the team, while starters Max Scherzer (20-7) and Stephen Strasburg (15-4) were dominant on the mound.
Blessed with a deep roster, the Los Angeles Dodgers cruised to their fourth consecutive National League West crown in 2016. Not even the loss of pitcher Zack Greinke to free agency and Clayton Kershaw to injury (for part of the season) could keep L.A. from getting back to October.
Season Series: Los Angeles won the season series, 5-1.
Postseason History: Washington is making its fourth postseason appearance in franchise history and first since 2014. The Nationals have never appeared in the World Series. The Dodgers will play in the franchise’s 30th postseason. They are hoping for their seventh World Series title and first since 1988.
Why The Nationals May Win: Mighty Max: Scherzer is an innings-eating ace that can carry a team to a win in a short series. If Murphy and outfielder Trea Turner can set the table for sluggers Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, the Nats should be able to guarantee at least two wins in his starts regardless of who pitches for the Dodgers, especially given Clayton Kershaw’s postseason history. All the Nats have to do is win one more.
Why The Dodgers May Win: Demons be gone: Clayton Kershaw has a career 4.59 postseason ERA. There’s no way a pitcher this good can continue to be that bad. Plus, the Nats will be without No. 2 starter Stephen Strasburg (arm) and catcher Wilson Ramos (knee). Outside of that, L.A. has a deep lineup of proven hitters like Adrian Gonzalez, Corey Seager, Chase Utley and Justin Turner — all of whom can get hot, fast.
2016 NLDS Schedule:
Game 1: Friday, Oct. 7, at Washington; 5:30 p.m. (ET) on FS1
Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 8, at Washington; 4 p.m. (ET) on MLBN
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 10, at Los Angeles - TBD on FS1
*Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 11, at Los Angeles - TBD on FS1
*Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 13, TBD at Washington - TBD on FS1
Chicago Cubs (103-58) vs. San Francisco Giants (87-75)
How They Got Here:Other than a few days at the very beginning of the season, the Chicago Cubs absolutely dominated the National League on the way to the N.L. Central title and the best record in baseball. From the deep starting staff of Jon Lester (19-8), Jake Arrieta (18-8) and Kyle Hendricks (16-8) to the powerful lineup featuring third baseman Kris Bryant, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Ben Zobrist and outfielder Dexter Fowler, the Cubs look like a team ready to end the franchise’s 108-year World Series drought.
Despite stumbling badly — and being passed by the Dodgers — in the second half of the season, the San Francisco Giants had just enough talent to land the National League’s second Wild Card berth. Thanks to postseason juggernaut Madison Bumgarner and a three-run homer from Conor Gillaspie, San Fran beat the New York Mets, 3-0, on the road Wednesday night.
Season Series:The Cubs won the season series, 4-3.
Postseason History:The Cubs are making their 18th postseason appearance — and second in a row. Manager Joe Maddon and GM Theo Epstein hope they will be the tandem that helps Chicago’s N.L. team win its third world championship and first since (gulp) 1908. The Giants are making their 25th postseason appearance, and fourth in seven years. They have won eight World Series, including one in each of the last three even-numbered years (2010, 2012 and 2014). These teams have faced each other once before in the postseason, with San Francisco beating the Cubs in the 1989 NLCS.
Why The Cubs May Win:It’s time: The Cubs are clearly the best team in baseball with a deep pitching staff, a powerful lineup and a bullpen anchored by mid-season acquisition Aroldis Chapman. Maddon is a skilled manager with a perfect temperament for today’s players. Chicago doesn’t have an easy road to the NLCS, but they should be able to power past the Giants now that they shouldn’t have to face MadBum twice.
Why The Giants May Win:They beliEven: Coincidences aside, the Giants have won three World Series in six years thanks to lights-out pitching, timely hitting and a deep, reliable bullpen. All three qualities are in place again, as Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija join Bumgarner in a killer short series rotation. Meanwhile catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt, outfielder Hunter Pence and a bunch of guys who look like stagehands at a heavy metal concert (Brandon Crawford, Conor Gillaspie, etc) will wear out pitchers and not strike out in droves.
2016 NLDS Schedule:
Game 1: Friday, Oct. 7 at Chicago; 9 p.m. (ET) on FS1
Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 8 at Chicago; 8 p.m. (ET) on FS1
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 10, at San Francisco - TBD on FS1
*Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 11, at San Francisco - TBD on FS1
*Game 5: Thursday, Oct. 13, TBD at Chicago - TBD on FS1